Archive for the ‘ Abandoned Zoo ’ Category

Kirby Park Ruins: Walk With History Along The Olmsted Trail

A Companion Post for Kirby Park Ruins: The Video

The Central Park / Kirby Park Connection

Credited with inventing the profession of “landscape architect”, Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr. is said to have   planned the American landscape itself.  This 19th-century visionary designed Central Park in New York City (with Calvert Vaux) and conceived the idea of a “parkway” for vehicles— on a driving tour of nature. During a history spanning 125 years, the Olmsted firm completed more than 3,000 landscapes across the United States and Canada, with Fredrick Law Olmstead, Jr., eventually heading the family firm and becoming internationally renowned as a landscape architect himself. The Olmsted impact touched upon parks, suburbs, cemeteries, private estates (including the Vanderbilt Mansion), conservation areas, and university campuses.

Fred Morgan Kirby donated more than 70 acres of riverfront land on the west bank of the Susquehanna River and Wilkes-Barre City commissioned the famed Olmsted Brothers firm to design “a park for the people” in 1921.

 Obviously, since it is so prone to flooding, Kirby Park has experienced many changes since the Olmsted Brother days.  But ironically, it is because of the flooding that a piece of “lost” Olmsted history still remains in Luzerne County today, hidden away in the “natural area” of Kirby Park, near the banks of the Susquehanna River, because it remained abandoned for several decades.

The path to abandonment began when Kirby Park was washed out with the flood of 1936. At that point, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decided that a levee system that sliced through Kirby Park would best serve the city of Wilkes-Barre in terms of flood protection. This division created the divide that distinguishes between the “natural” and the city-maintained areas of Kirby Park.

 While the park on one side of the levee remained a neatly manicured public area, the other side became overgrown and even served as an illegal dumping ground for unwanted debris for several decades.   During the 1990s, preservationists started clearing the long-forgotten area between the levee and the Susquehanna River, uncovering a handful of lost ruins.  

The paved part of the trail that still remains today is the remnant of an old bridle path that wound thru that part of the park decades ago and is now known as the Olmsted Trail. Riverside, you will find the Reflecting/Wading Pool area, which was part of the original Olmsted design, in addition to the remains of the Caretaker’s Cottage.  According to the plans, this area was used as a children’s playground, although no attempt was made to install the usual playground equipment.

The intention was to use the Cottage as a rest room for women and children in the front, with an apartment available for the caretaker in the rear.  Outside of this rest room was a pergola with stone pavement.  A broad flight of concrete steps led to the wading pool and sand beds below. 

As you continue further down the trail, if you look hard enough, you will locate the remains of a bandstand in the wooded area off to the left, near the Olmsted Trail sign.  The Kirby Park Bandstand included a concrete foundation with a large storeroom beneath.   In November of 1944, local news reports describe the structure as having “fallen into disrepair” in an article about a fire started in the bandstand by youngsters playing in the shell. 

On the remainder of the path you can search for the remains of a pavilion and two other abandoned structures of controversial origin.  Some of the structures are difficult to locate during the summer months because of the abundance of plant life in the area.

The next time you visit Kirby Park, consider taking a walk with history along the Olmsted Trail.  Or, you can just watch the video for a look at the Olmsted trail “then and now”.

You can find the video at:

Kirby Park Ruins: The Video

~*~*~*~

Return To

GUERRILLA HISTORY Table of Contents

Cheri Sundra © 2012
All Rights Reserved

Kirby Park Ruins: The Video

For Those Who Want History Served With A Side Of Adventure

(An Unemployed Zombie Building Infiltration Specialist Production)

Remnants of a distant age whose memories are only vaguely preserved, you cannot deny the romance and intrigue surrounding “lost” ruins.  They give us a connection to the past that’s visceral, hinting at a tale full of both splendor and calamity. 

Over the decades, a sense of mystery has slowly enveloped the Kirby Park Ruins, blurring the line between fact and urban legend.  All that is left for history to do now is collect the few clues that can be found scattered about, and attempt to hammer them together to marvel at the stories they may reveal. 

Reclaimed by the grasping fingers of  nature, despoiled by human hands, and buried beneath the mud of the mighty Susquehanna River, these monuments to Wilkes-Barre’s days-gone-by have suffered the same fate experienced by all ancient monuments.

So why not cater to your sense of adventure, get your “Indiana Jones” on, and walk hand-in-hand with history and mystery by exploring the Kirby Park Ruins for yourself? 

You can also watch the video here:

Kirby Park Ruins: The Video

~~~~~~~~

And don’t miss the companion post:

Kirby Park Ruins: Walk with History along the Olmsted Trail

~~~~~~~~

For more information about these mysterious ruins, visit:

Kirby Park Zoo Ruins: Ooops!  Maybe Not!

&

The Animals Of The “Lost” Kirby Park Zoo

@@@@@@@

Return To

GUERRILLA HISTORY Table of Contents

 

Cheri Sundra © 2012
All Rights Reserved

A Monkey in the Colliery, The Bear From Vaudeville & Politics of An Eagle: The Rise and Fall of the Kirby Park Zoo

What do we really know about the Kirby Park Zoo? 

 The Kirby Park Zoo, once located in Kirby Park somewhere along the river, completely vanished into history during the World War II era.  Still, the zoo is one of Wilkes-Barre’s legends.  And rightly so, it is captivating to imagine a simpler time when communities nationwide not only had amusement parks right in their own back yards, but municipal zoos were also popular local attractions.  And the Kirby Park Zoo was popular!  It had somewhere between 2,000 to 3,000 visitors during the weekends in the summer months, according to newspaper coverage from the days when the zoo was in operation.
Third Structure (6)

“Zoo” Grafitti

I don’t quite understand why, but there is a tendency for locals to “spin” these regional venues in such a way that they become shrouded in controversy and mystery over time.  It must be a function of the human mind to weave our childhood fantasies into our memories about events and locations. 

When I was doing research about the Kirby Park Zoo, on more than one occasion, people told me that their deceased relatives told them stories about the elephants of the Kirby Park Zoo.  Which is just bizarre, there is no way that the city of Wilkes-Barre housed elephants right next to the Susquehanna River!   I wrote these instances off as just a miscommunication created as a result of being a generation or two removed from actual historical events.

Abandoned Nay Aug Park Zoo 1 HD

Abandoned Giraffe Sculpture at Nay Aug Park Zoo


But I recently became aware of the fact that this phenomenon also happens within the generation of people with first-hand experience, while photographing the remains of the now defunct Nay Aug Park Zoo in Scranton.  A couple stopped by the remaining zoo cages with their adult children, and proceeded to tell them about their “memories” of the giraffes that lived right there–in the elephant house!  Apparently, when you DO have elephants in your local zoo, people remember giraffes instead!    

An Abandoned Zoo Christmas:  the remains of the Elephant House, Nay Aug Park Zoo, Scranton Pennsylvania

Nay Aug Park Elephant House At Christmas

The mystery surrounding the Kirby Park Zoo is magnified by the fact that the location itself was cut off from Kirby Park more than 70 years ago when the levee was constructed to protect the area from flooding.    While the park on one side of the levee remained a neatly manicured public area, the other side became overgrown and even served as an illegal dumping ground for unwanted debris for several decades.   During the 1990s, preservationists started clearing the long-forgotten area between the levee and the Susquehanna River, uncovering a handful of lost ruins. That’s when the urban legends about the long forgotten Kirby Park Zoo began to grow as more people began to frequent the area while walking or fishing along the Olmsted Trail and would come across these structures. 

Third Structure (4) Side
Kirby Park Zoo “Ruins”

Through research, I’ve learned that the Kirby Park Zoo was mentioned in the original Olmsted Brother’s plans for Kirby Park, but as far as I can tell (please, someone prove me wrong!), the world renowned firm did not design plans for the Kirby Park Zoo per say, although the Olmsted’s did (obviously) design the Olmsted Trail where the zoo most likely would have been located.
Olmsted Sign
We know the zoo was definitely in place by 1932, because Wilkes-Barre architect Clark Wright Evans (architect of the Westmoreland Club) designed an improved  “zoological building” for Kirby Park in that same year. His plans were advertised for bid in the November, 9 1932, edition of the Philadelphia Real Estate Record and Builders Guide. The index for those plans says that the building was “destroyed by flooding in 1936”, but local newspaper articles about the zoo make it impossible to believe that it was ever built in the first place!  (Hmmm….Typical “Luzerne County Style” politics at work even back then? –-Of course we lost our un-built zoo building in the flood, can we get some federal compensation for it?!) 

Based on contemporary newspaper descriptions of the zoo, it’s hard to conclude that any of the “ruins” in today’s Kirby Park Natural Area were ever used to house zoo animals, which was a popular belief perpetrated by local news coverage.  (You can read all about my research concerning the remaining structures here.)  Because of all of the mystery, some people have suggested to me that maybe the zoo never existed at all!   On the contrary, our local newspaper coverage shows that not only did the zoo exist; the community loved these animals so much that they were personified and their actions were often part of local news coverage.  The zoo also became embroiled in controversy as community members became more aware of the potential for unintended animal cruelty because of the limitations experienced when cultivating a small community zoo, much in the same manner as other comparable zoos nationwide, like Nay Aug Park.

While the Kirby Park Zoo did not have a happy ending, which is most likely the main reason its history has been “lost” and its actual location forgotten, I still think that it is an important part of our local history, indicating a lot about the character of our community.  The story speaks of values and politics, and tells us about what we were like as a culture during that snapshot in time through our relationship with animals.  And for that reason alone, the rise and fall of the Kirby Park Zoo is a tale that needs to be told!

News Coverage: Kirby Park Zoo Animals From Start to Finish

(As if sorting out the information about this vanished landmark isn’t difficult enough, a 1994 article in the Times Leader says that the zoo opened in 1932, “with great fanfare” (“Monkeys Made Kirby Park Swinging Place”, July 13, 1994).  BUT, as you can see, news accounts about the zoo predate the “opening date”.  AND the architect mentioned above was just advertising his zoo plans for bid in November of 1932. )

April 10, 1926

“Bear Given to City—Gift Will Mark Start of Zoo in Kirby Park Maurer Announces”~~Wilkes-Barre Record

“An eight month old black bear was presented to the city yesterday.  The bear was turned over to Councilman Maurer, commissioner of parks, who had it sent to Kirby Park, where according to Councilman Maurer it is the intention to establish a zoo in keeping with the wishes of F. M. Kirby, donor of the park. 

“The bear romped around in the windows of Decker-MacLean store for several weeks prior to the fire.  But at the time of the conflagration, it was in a garage below South Main Street.” (I don’t know what that means…..but it sounds awfully suspicious!)

“According to Councilman Maurer the bear is as tame as a kitten and was the playmate of children while in the store.” (Yikes!)

“Yesterday afternoon the bear was taken to Kirby Park in a street department truck and placed in a temporary home in the rear of the residence of Thomas Phillips, supervisor of parks. (Who was this bear?  Winnie-the Pooh?!  Why are they playing with this bear and taking the bear home with them?)  It is the plan to erect a wire fence in the wooded section of Kirby Park south of the residence overlooking the river and which was erected by Thomas Podmore (Caretaker Cottage).  A dug-out is to be built for the bear and the environment will be made as natural for him as possible.”

Kirby Park old post card of cottageCaretaker Cottage then

Caretaker cottage TODAY 1Caretaker Cottage Ruins Today

July 29, 1930

“Monkey Percher Back in Zoo, Thanks to Cat”~~Wilkes-Barre Record

“It’s not a case of “and the cat came back”, not this time.  It’s the monkey, for the gay young female of Kirby Park Zoo was returned to her habitat yesterday after a week’s perching in and about various trees in Nesbitt and Kirby Parks.  However, it was a cat that was responsible for her return.” 

“Miss Simian, or whatever her name is, after tiring of her tree perching and wandering about aimlessly in the park, decided that being in the Anthracite region she should explore a colliery.”

The article goes on to describe how the monkey was cornered by the cat owned by the watchman at the Glen Alden Coal Company and returned to her cage at the Kirby Park Zoo.

October 18, 1930

Wilkes-Barre Record

It is mentioned that an opossum that was captured by a PP&L employee and presented to Councilman John Noble to place in the Kirby Park Zoo.  (Also interesting to note: a second one was brought to him on October 21!)

March 19, 1936

“Bears Moan As They Cling To The Top of Their Park Cages” (During the flood of 1936)~~Wilkes-Barre Record

Kirby Park Zoo Bears 1936 Flood

“Human life comes first, but the plight of the three black bears left in their high wire cage in Kirby Park when the river rose for a second time within a week, yesterday afternoon touched hearts of officials and others who had the right to be on the western end of Market Street Bridge.”

“As the waters rose, the bears climbed onto the top of their curved roof home.  They had been forced from other high spots in their cage during Thursday night and were compelled to seek refuge on the roof.”

“Although efforts are said to have been made to reach the animals, they were not removed.  As the river steadily rose, the three moved around precariously on their small roof and at dusk appeared to have about three or four feet before the water would hit the apex of the curved roof, which is about six feet long.”

“Pitiful moans rent the air during the afternoon as motorboats and row boats took refugees from their homes to the western approach of the new bridge to be transported to central city ambulances.”

“The deep toned cries, and occasional high pitched screech, cast a weird spell over those who were on the western edge of the bridge and although within seeing distance, were separated from the bear den by a stretch of water several hundred feet wide and as deep as 10 feet, according to what could be seen of the light standards in the section of the park.”

“It sends shivers up and down my back every time I hear the poor things cry or moan”, said Chief County Detective Richard Powell.  It’s too bad they were not removed.  They are like humans and they sense and see the danger and they are panicky.” 

“The bears appear to be hanging for dear life by their claws.  Every once in a while two of the animals would rub their necks and noses together as if one was attempting to console the other.  One, said to be the oldest, and said to be suffering from rheumatism spent most of his time on one side of the curves roof away from the other two.”

“Dr. Emory Lutes, city veterinarian, was asked last night about the plight of the bears.  He said the animals were on the roof of their home and that if the water reached the apex of the structure, most of the city of Wilkes-Barre would be under water.”  

 March 28, 1936

“Flood Damage Vast in Park” ~~Wilkes-Barre Record

“Pictures of Kirby Park after the flood were obtained by council yesterday and reveal an enormous damage.” 

March 29, 1936

“Zoo at Kirby Park Regains Occupants”~~Sunday Independent

 “Tranquility once again prevails at Kirby Park zoo.  Turmoil, provoked by high water of the Susquehanna, routed all animals, the rescue work being carried out by city employees under direction of Park Supervisor Tom Phillips.  Last night the “refugees” were back home. Only one casualty, the male buffalo, was listed. Poisoned food hastened the end of the quadruped, according to Councilman John Nobel. A female buffalo, all fox, rabbits, groundhog, honey bears, monkeys and the eagle were quartered in the 109th armory during the flood.  Three bears, cynosure of all juveniles visiting Kirby Park, withstood ravages of the disaster. The water came up so rapidly they could not be rescued and were forced to perch atop a stone house inside a cage. The animals were foodless for five days and did virtually no sleeping during the flood period. Over four feet of water swept through the bears’ habitat.  Alas and alack – Pete, the pet gose [sic], joined his colleagues yesterday. Pete laughed at “Old Man River” when it began to swell. The winged pet watched the water flow over the west shore and continued to smile. On the third day Pete was hungry. He emulated Johnny Weismuller and swam all the way to Edwardsville, where he was picked up by two youths. The boys, fearful of prosecution, returned Pete yesterday to the park and they were told arrests would not follow.  So all again is peaceful with the speechless population of Kirby Park.” 

May 12, 1936

“Shoes Needed For Kirby Park”~~Wilkes-Barre Record

“Barefooted children will be barred from Kirby Park because of the presence of small pieces of glass and nails.”

“With the announcement by Councilman Houser yesterday that Alex the Bear , of Harvey’s Lake and Noxen fame, had been lent to the city zoo it was reported that some deer were forthcoming from the state.”   

May 12, 1936

“Alex Takes More Than Fall Out of Wrestling Mate, So He’s in Cooler”~~Wilkes-Barre Record

“Alex, the bear is behind bars—at Kirby Park Zoo—all because of a bad attack of stage fright. Emery Newell of Noxen, enterprising butcher, won Alex in a contest in January, wooed him with tidbits and tenderness and trained him to wrestle with some of his Noxen neighbors.”

The article goes on to explain how Emery took Alex to “some kind of carnival” in Phoenixville with his neighbor and Alex’s wrestling partner, Sam Dymond, also of Noxen.  Alex became too aggressive during the “performance” and injured Sam.  During the return trip Emery decides to drop Alex off at the Kirby Park Zoo to “cool off” while he hangs out with the other bears for the rest of the summer. 

The article continues to describe the more past dangerous exploits experienced by the entire Newell Family as well as another neighbor because Emery insists upon keeping Alex around as a vaudeville money-maker.  Emery tells the Kirby Park Zoo foreman William Law that he will return to pick up Alex for his next vaudeville tour.

 August 7, 1936

“Kirby Park Eagle Freed—Bird Liberated Near Wyalusing Where Others of Its Kind Are Seen”~~Wilkes-Barre Record

 “Wilkes-Barre’s eagle over whose head a lusty debate once raged has been liberated.” 

“It was finally decided that perhaps Dr. H. M. Beck, local dentist and sportsman, has been right all along, and the eagle did not have enough room in its gilded cage.  Dr. Beck and others have held that it was verging on criminal to coop up a bird like an eagle when it should be soaring over mountaintops and ledges.”

“So the decision was reached this week, following a renewed protest by the dentist to liberate the bird.   Councilman Houser, who inherited the eagle together with a lot of goats, buffaloes, bears, etc., in Kirby Park as commissioner, was not adverse to letting the eagle go as much as he said he would like to have the youngsters see it in the park.”

 

November 17, 1936

“Park Eagle Pete is Dead and Stuffed , Nobel Says—Former Park Commissioner Says He is Prepared to Show Liberation of Bird Was Mistake”~~Wilkes-Barre Record

“Is old Pete, the caged eagle in the Kirby Park Zoo for five years dead or alive?  Councilman John Nobel, former park commissioner and strong advocate of keeping the eagle in the zoo for the growing generation to see, says the American liberty token has been dead since five days after he was freed on Wyalusing Mountain, last June.”

Now, as if you don’t already think this story is weird, it’s about to get a lot weirder! 

“Dead by the hand of a relative of Mr. Nobel, a coincidence not discovered until last week when the councilman visited near Towanda and was informed an eagle had been shot.  He was told the bird was mounted and on display in the window of a Towanda main street merchant.  Recognizing it at once, Nobel said yesterday he will bring the bird to this city and display him in a Public Square window for all to see.”

“Let him bring it, say the advocates of the bird’s liberation.  They held that the bird’s cage was so located in the zoo that it was not possible to watch it, and the boys threw stones and poked sticks at it and teased it and annoyed it continually.  The Humane Society, Dr H S Beck and others pleaded for its freedom.  But Nobel, as park commissioner was adamant.” 

“Then election came along last year and Mr. Nobel was replaced by William B. Houser as park commissioner.  Houser promised that the bird would be freed and so it was in June.”

“Later, stories from St. Stephen’s Boys Camp at Vosburg related how the eagle had been seen on ‘them thar’ mountains.  The story even got out that Pete had mated and started to prorogate the species.  Whether this is true or not has not been thoroughly proven.  If Mr. Nobel is right, than the other story cannot be right.”

“However, Mr. Nobel’s threat to bring the eagle back for the citizens to see as a really dead one brought forth hope that he would do so by the Humane Society officers last night.  Nobel says the eagle’s beak is marked from the bars.  The others say it was not.  It’s marked in other ways though and that will be the proof, they say.  William Law, park foreman, who fed the bird for five years is considered the mainspring in the debate, for if he cannot identify the bird, no one can.”

 March 28, 1937

Sunday Independent

Page A-13

“There are seven monkeys, one baboon, two parrots, three macaws from South America, two raccoons, three foxes, about two dozen pigeons, three horned owls, four sheep, five bear, two wild goats from South America, one North American goat, one buffalo and two geese.”

In the same article, Ernest Vivian, the zookeeper, noted that the Kirby Park zoo could not accommodate additional animals:

“’If we had a larger and more substantial set of buildings than we have now, we could handle more of the gifts people are continually offering us but right now it’s impossible to take care of them.’ What were some of the animals offered as gifts? ‘Well, for example, pheasants and peacocks. We had to turn them down. We hadn’t any room and nothing could be done right now.’

‘The snakes and alligators the zoo had were given up. The snakes dug out of their pit one day and there wasn’t any way of keeping them safe unless we had a concrete base and a glass cage. But we have a lot of other animals here and the children and their parents will find that in a few weeks, when we open up, the collection will be as fine if not better than ever.”’

The article went on to note that:

“When summer is in full swing, between 2,000 and 3,000 people visit on Sunday and about the same number come in during the six week days.

Wilkes-Barre has a fine zoo for the amount of money expended on it. However, if the straitened financial conditions of the city ever are arranged so that a permanent structure can be built, the improvement would improve the zoo many fold.”

 April 14, 1940

Sunday Independent

Page A-4  

“Announcement that the Kirby Park zoo probably will be reduced to a monkey house – and nothing more – shows the change of the years. It’s not so long ago that most ambitious plans were in the air for the Kirby Park zoo. The park department still has some pretty pictures of the plans that were made. It was hoped to have a splendid building, big runways and everything to permit the animals to live as nearly as they do in natural surroundings. There were hopes of expansion so that a great variety of animals would be on display, for the amusement and education of the entire valley. That is a far cry from latest plans to have a monkey house – and nothing more. And it’s all a matter of money. In the old days the trust fund provided by Fred M. Kirby for the upkeep of the park brought in from $25,000 to $28,000 every year . . . Then came the depression. Now the amount the fund gives the city – after a couple of years of nothing at all – is about half what it used to be . . . Blame the depression.”

How NOT To Take Notes!

**I didn’t write down the date for this, but given the chain of events, it seems to go here…

 “Alex and Bear Pal, Sold for $25, May Be Turned Loose in Mountain—Houser Says City Will Be Rid of Costly Zoo Animals”

“Purchaser of Alex and his pal in the big cage that is to be turned into a monkey house, Dr Emory Lutes presented the check to the Park Department head yesterday.” 

The article goes on to say that Dr. Lutes along with the president of the Humane Society would announce the final decision about the bears at a meeting, but in all probability, they would be released back into the wild. 

“Councilman Houser was well pleased with the deal, particularly at the prospect of getting rid of Alex.  “He was a mighty bad boy when we had him in Kirby Park and last year killed another bear in the cage”, Houser explained. “The flood caused us so much trouble and expense and brought so many rats that we all decided to eliminate all the animals at the zoo except monkeys.  We plan to build a good house for the eight to 10 monkeys remaining and will use the bear cage this summer so the youngsters who visit the park can enjoy them.”

“Three other bears were in the cage at Kirby Park in recent years but all died or were killed.   The city’s decision to eliminate the zoo meets with the approval of the Humane Society.  Dr. Lutes recalled that at least 10 deer and several buffalo have died in their cages in recent years and the goats and a fox drowned.  Since rats infested the cages, the Human Association officials said the decision to tear down the wooden structures is wise.”

Deer Cage at Kirby Park Zoo

 May 5, 1940

“Filth at Kirby Park Zoo Forced Humane Society to Act”~~Sunday Independent

“The Kirby Park Zoo, for which the city of Wilkes-Barre spent thousands of dollars to establish and many more thousands to maintain, has turned out to be a filth-infested, highly unsanitary “haven” for wild birds and animals. Because health conditions are deplorable, reaching the point where the majority of the animal populace has either died or been killed off, the zoo now must be abandoned.”

“Survey of the situation yesterday revealed the fact that there are but two bears, one silver fox and a horned owl, outside of a flock of monkeys, remaining in the penned areas. The Luzerne County Humane Society has interested itself in the situation, as a step in clearing up matters, paid $25 to take over everything but the monkeys. The city will maintain cages for these.”

“In addition to filth brought by high river water, and given only western exposure and wooden houses when eastern exposure and concrete shelters are needed, it is reported thousands of rats have infested the pens at Kirby Park to aggravate a bad situation. These rats made life miserable for other animals by stealing food and, it is believed, spread disease among the inmates.”

In addition to the drowning of a silver fox and two goats in the recent flood, three bears recently “murdered” each other and killed a cub, the two buffalo and a calf have passed away, while none of the ten deer survived. It is believed the zoo was improperly located from the start, situated in soggy ground, and another matter that enters into the picture is the fact that feeding and care of the animals in recent years was but a sideline of caretakers at the West Side Park.”

The coverage concluded by describing how the Humane Society planned to release the two bears into the woods of Noxen Mountain.”

May 12, 1940

Sunday Independent

“To all intents and purposes the Kirby Park Zoo – the Wilkes-Barre City Zoo – has gone and the fact that it had to go, plus the manner of its passing, is not exactly a boost for the town.”

“The zoo was situated in a park, the upkeep of which along with that of the animals was provided for by the philanthropy of Fred M. Kirby.”

“Naturally, the income from the bonds Mr. Kirby provided has shrunk, but hardly is it likely that it has shrunk as much as the park of which the city once was so proud.”

“Conceived as a place of beauty for the city, the main expanse of the park has been taken over to a great extent by the dike leaving, with the zoo gone, several baseball fields on the flat stretch next to the armory and, nearby, the tennis courts.”

“Worst of all, however, was the action of the Humane Society in “buying” the animals. This, they said, they felt was necessary in order to live up to the creed of their organization. They did not consider the animals were being treated in a humane manner at the zoo.”

“Life will go on in Wyoming Valley, of course, as it did before. Many other little niceties also could go and some people seem intent on removing them too, getting the general population down to the elementary necessities of eating, drinking, sleeping and working. (Interesting statement!)

But the zoo was enjoyed by many – including the children. It added just a bit to their pleasure and helped make the park and the city of which we boast more complete. It also is to be noted that many other cities, unaided by the gift of a philanthropist, consider it worthwhile to spend their own money on such things. Furthermore, they do a good job of it.

So it is not exactly something to be proud of when it is proved that Wilkes-Barre lacks even the ability to keep a zoo – after the money is provided.”

 August 29, 1942

“Kirby Park Monkeys Feed on Dehydrated Bananas”~~Wilkes-Barre Record

The article references the war and a submarine menace interfering with ocean travel to the extent that even banana boats can’t get through on schedule.

“This shortage of the fruit so much liked by monkeys and apes has been a serious matter for keepers of zoos, and while Wilkes-Barre does not boast a zoo, it nevertheless has 13 monkeys at Kirby Park which it houses and feeds.” 

 

February 10, 1946

“Once Proud Kirby Park Zoo is Just About Finished—Monkeys’ Departure Recalls Days of Many Animals, Big Crowds and Plans for Enlargement and Improvement”~~Sunday Independent

“The city’s monkeys, those at the Kirby Park Zoo and not those in City Hall—are soon with us, but soon to depart.  When they go, gone will be the last remnant of what was once a rather colorful and highly interesting assortment of animal life which added considerable to the pleasure of thousands who made their trips to the park to see them. But even that which we did enjoy at the peak of Wilkes-Barre’s zoological effort did not come up to the hopes. “

“If they dig deep enough in the archives of the park department office in City Hall, they probably will find plans for even more still better things.  While those plans could not be called over-ambitious or too pretentious, they did show a studied effort to have a display of animals in a manner as close as possible to the natural habitat of the beasts and birds which were here then and the others they hoped to get. “

“Those were the days when we had not only monkeys, but a few bears, a buffalo, some varied goats, deer, sheep, raccoons, parrots and perhaps some more.  It was not a bad display for a small town and was enjoyed by a rather large section of the population.” 

“And the peculiar part of it is that all of this was kept up and added throughout the darkest days of the depression.  The Kirby Park Zoo began to fade just when prosperity started to return. Several reasons are given.  One of these has to do with costs since right up to date it has been costing about $80 a year, plus much of the time of a man to keep the monkeys. “

“Also, the amount of the money received from the generous endowment of the late F. M. Kirby, began to shrink. Another thing was the rapid decline of interest—at least in City Hall.  Whether the interest of the public did the same has not been announced, although as the once active display shrank to near nothingness, it was but natural that fewer people would stop and look.”

“Just what kind of new era will be needed to recreate the old enthusiasm is not known.  But, no doubt, it will come back again and the city will start all over again.  It would help to be sure, if the monkeys and things could only vote.”     

You can be a History Detective too!

I cannot figure out where the zoo would have been specifically located.  So I need your help…..These are the clues that history provides (that I know of so far!)

 

Zoo Location Clues:


1.  “given only western exposure and wooden houses when eastern exposure and concrete shelters are needed”

2.  Notes: “Zoological garden. 1 Bear, 2 owls, 2 pheasants, 1 coon. Have it in the northwest corner.” – Kirby Park Zoo Plans, REPORT OF VISIT BY H. J. Koehler, September 16, 1926  (and granted “plans” doesn’t mean it happened that way!)

3.  A 1931 article  (Thank You Tom Mooney) about a howitzer (cannon?) being given to the city, saying that it was to be placed “on a platform to the rear of the present site of the Kirby Park Zoo”.  Anyone remember cannon in the Kirby Park Zoo?!  Ask your elderly relatives!     

Howitzer

Bear Cage Location Clues

1. “It is the plan to erect a wire fence in the wooded section of Kirby Park south of the residence overlooking the river and which was erected by Thomas Podmore. (Caretaker Cottage) (From article above)

2.  “those who were on the western edge of the bridge and although within seeing distance, were separated from the bear den by a stretch of water.” (From article above)

3.  We have a picture!

 

If you think you know where the zoo was, or if you find any zoo information while doing other research, please contact me! I’d love to hear from you….

 

Return to

GUERRILLA HISTORY Table of Contents

 Cheri Sundra © 2012
All Rights Reserved

The Kirby Park Zoo–An Unrealized Vision

The Clark Wright Evans plans for a “zoological building for Kirby Park—Courtesy of The Hoyt Library, Kingston, Pennsylvania

In 2009, archaeologists discovered strange animal burials in the Egyptian capital of Hierakonpolis that suggests the existence of a large animal menagerie around 3500 B.C. that included baboons, wildcats and two elephants.  These animals were buried in the city’s elite cemetery, where rulers and their family members were also interred, along with evidence indicating that these powerful rulers kept the animals in captivity, almost like a zoo. These animals were given special treatment in death, buried in human fashion and even sometimes accompanied by a human figurine.

This was an important archaeological discovery because for the longest time the first zoo that we knew about was started around 1150 B.C. by a Chinese emperor that contained many kinds of deer, birds and fish.  This 1,500 acre zoo was called the “Garden of Intelligence” and was kind of like our modern zoos with one huge exception; it was kept for the amusement of the Emperor and his Court and was not open to the public.

A bronze statue of a mother lion with her cub at the Philadelphia Zoo

It is widely believed that the first public zoo was established by Queen Hatshepsut in 1500 B.C., in ancient Egypt, by collecting animals from all over Africa.  Throughout history, zoos have been built to show a leader’s wealth & power.  The oldest zoo still in existence today is located in Vienna on the grounds of the Schönbrunn Palace and was initially founded as an imperial menagerie in 1752.   The first public zoological garden in the world, the Jardin des Plantes in Paris, was opened in 1793.

Like most things that man builds, zoos are a reflection of our values—-throughout history, our relationship with animals can give us insight about where we were as a society.

Philadelphia Zoo closed their Elephant House in 2009 due to the need for renovation & budget constraints.

 During the Age of Enlightenment, when Darwin was like a science rock star, zoos represented science as a mission.  This is when some of the earliest official zoos began, like the London Zoo in 1828 and America’s first zoo, the Philadelphia Zoo, in 1874.   This was also the Romantic Age, when beauty had the utmost value and zoos were also becoming a place for socializing.  The architectural style was ornate & dramatic while “Houses” were in vogue—Cat House, Bird House, etc.  But, sadly for the inhabitants, appearance was more important than function, and animals were seen as beautiful objects, rather than living beings, so the cages were inadequate and as a result, life expectancy was short.

The next incarnation of the zoo reflected the fact that the world was in the midst of several wars, and as a result, the study of nature seemed much less important than it did during the height of Darwin’s celebrity, but the Age of Romanticism still existed and zoos were treated as living art galleries where exhibits were turned into mini-paintings or real-life sculptures with visually designed “proper” landscapes.  This style’s popularity was short-live at first, because everyone seemed to be adopting the modernist movement in zoo design, including the architects who designed the now defunct Nay Aug Park Zoo in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Nay Aug Park Zoo Elephant House

Nay Aug Park Zoo

Modernism was all about function and reflected man’s advances in medicine.  At that time, zoos were designed for quick sterilization and exhibits were created so they could easily be hosed down on a regular basis.  This usually meant concrete structures with clean lines, and a simplified modern style that was influenced by the Modernist Art movement, creating zoo exhibits that looked more like the setting for a sculpture rather than an animal habitat.  This movement in zoo design did actually help to extend the life expectancy for zoo animals, but did little to address their mental well-being.

Nay Aug Park Zoo Habitat

Since that time, we have evolved to develop a strong sense of animal rights and environmental awareness so our modern zoo exhibits reflect not only a sense of beauty, recalling once again the Age of Romanticism, but also strive to achieve a higher standard of physical and mental health accommodations for the inhabitants.   Exhibits are now designed to recreate the animal’s natural habitat while also attempting to incorporate the visitor into the surroundings as if they are immersed in the landscape.

The Houston Zoo

Luzerne County attempted to become a contender in the world of community zoos with mixed results during the 1930s thru the early 1940s.  On one hand, the Kirby Park Zoo was able to boast about accommodating somewhere between 2,000 to 3,000 visitors during the weekend in the summer months (Wow!  If only we could find something that could do that now, huh?! ) according to local newspaper reports and on the other hand, it was dogged by claims of animal cruelty and flooding. 

I became intrigued with the notion that a zoo used to exist in Kirby Park when the grandmother of a friend told us about it when we were young.  I was so fascinated by the structures that still stand in Kirby Park today that have been identified by the local papers as “zoo ruins” that I attempted to research what the structures were used for with surprising results!  (Follow the link to learn more!)  Since my last post, The Hoyt Library has generously made the plans for the Clark Wright Evans “zoological building” available for viewing by the public (They remind me of The Nay Aug Park Zoo in Scranton):

The Clark Wright Evans Zoological Building Design for the Kirby Park Zoo

Cheri,  I am a reference librarian at the Hoyt. We were not able to contact you on your MSN email account but found this page and wanted to let you know the Kirby Zoo blueprints are here on the second floor of the library! Stop in at the desk and we can help you further your research efforts! ~~ Kathleen Bednarek

 The following information about the Kirby Park Zoo was provided via email by Larry Newman, past president of the Wyoming Valley Historical Society (now the Luzerne County Historical Society).

 While the zoo may not have been part of the original plans for the park, it was definitely in place by 1932, because we know that Wilkes-Barre architect Clark Wright Evans (architect of the Westmoreland Club and what is now King’s College’s Luksik Hall) designed a “zoological building” for Kirby Park in that year. The plans were advertised for bid in the 11/9/1932 edition of the Philadelphia Real Estate Record and Builders Guide, and at least some of Evans’ drawings for the zoological building, dated Sept. 1932, are included in the inventory of Evans’ remaining architectural plans, which are housed at the Hoyt Library in Kingston. The index to those plans notes that the building was “destroyed by flooding in 1936” – but the articles quoted below make me wonder whether it was ever built in the first place. As a matter of fact, based on contemporary newspaper descriptions of the zoo (copied below), it’s hard to conclude that any of the “ruins” in today’s Kirby Park Natural Area were ever part of the zoo.~~ Larry Newman 

Mr. Newman cited the following information from newspaper articles showing that the zoo did not close because of the 1936 flood:

An article on Page A-3 of the March 29, 1936 Sunday Independent, titled “Zoo at Kirby Park Regains Occupants,” read:

“Tranquility once again prevails at Kirby Park zoo. Turmoil, provoked by high water of the Susquehanna, routed all animals, the rescue work being carried out by city employees under direction of Park Supervisor Tom Phillips. Last night the “refugees” were back home. Only one casualty, the male buffalo, was listed. Poisoned food hastened the end of the quadruped, according to Councilman John Nobelt.  A female buffalo, all fox, rabbits, groundhog, honey bears, monkeys and the eagle were quartered in the 109th armory during the flood.

Three bears, cynosure of all juveniles visiting Kirby Park, withstood ravages of the disaster. The water came up so rapidly they could not be rescued and were forced to perch atop a stone house inside a cage. The animals were foodless for five days and did virtually no sleeping during the flood period. Over four feet of water swept through the bears’ habitat.

Kirby Park Zoo Bears during the 1936 Flood, “Lest We Forget: Wyoming Valley Flood of 1936″–Luzerne County Historical Society Collection

Alas and alack – Pete, the pet gose [sic], joined his colleagues yesterday. Pete laughed at “Old Man River” when it began to swell. The winged pet watched the water flow over the west shore and continued to smile. On the third day Pete was hungry. He emulated Johnny Weismuller and swam all the way to Edwardsville, where he was picked up by two youths. The boys, fearful of prosecution, returned Pete yesterday to the park and they were told arrests would not follow. So all again is peaceful with the speechless population of Kirby Park.”

One year later, an article about the Kirby Park zoo on Page A-13 of the March 28, 1937 Sunday Independent listed the Kirby Park zoo’s inhabitants:

“There are seven monkeys, one baboon, two parrots, three macaws from South America, two raccoons, three foxes, about two dozen pigeons, three horned owls, four sheep, five bear, two wild goats from South America, one North American goat, one buffalo and two geese.”

In the same 1937 article, Ernest Vivian, the zookeeper, noted that the Kirby Park zoo could not accommodate additional animals:

“’If we had a larger and more substantial set of buildings than we have now, we could handle more of the gifts people are continually offering us but right now it’s impossible to take care of them.’ What were some of the animals offered as gifts? ‘Well, for example, pheasants and peacocks. We had to turn them down. We hadn’t any room and nothing could be done right now.

An Unrealized Vision for The Kirby Park Zoo

Full View

Also from the same article, ‘The snakes and alligators the zoo had were given up. The snakes dug out of their pit one day and there wasn’t any way of keeping them safe unless we had a concrete base and a glass cage. But we have a lot of other animals here and the children and their parents will find that in a few weeks, when we open up, the collection will be as fine if not better than ever.”’ 

 “When summer is in full swing, between 2,000 and 3,000 people visit on Sunday and about the same number come in during the six week days.

Wilkes-Barre has a fine zoo for the amount of money expended on it. However, if the straitened financial conditions of the city ever are arranged so that a permanent structure can be built, the improvement would improve the zoo many fold.”

Building Details

 However, improvements never came. An article on Page A-4 of the April 14, 1940 Sunday Independent stated:

“Announcement that the Kirby Park zoo probably will be reduced to a monkey house – and nothing more – shows the change of the years. It’s not so long ago that most ambitious plans were in the air for the Kirby Park zoo. The park department still has some pretty pictures of the plans that were made. It was hoped to have a splendid building, big runways and everything to permit the animals to live as nearly as they do in natural surroundings. There were hopes of expansion so that a great variety of animals would be on display, for the amusement and education of the entire valley. That is a far cry from latest plans to have a monkey house – and nothing more. And it’s all a matter of money. In the old days the trust fund provided by Fred M. Kirby for the upkeep of the park brought in from $25,000 to $28,000 every year . . . Then came the depression. Now the amount the fund gives the city – after a couple of years of nothing at all – is about half what it used to be . . . Blame the depression.”

Less than one month later, however, a grim story on Page A-11 of the May 5, 1940 Sunday Independent, titled “Filth at Kirby Park Zoo Forced Humane Society to Act,” painted a different picture and pointed the blame at people (as opposed to money):

“The Kirby Park Zoo, for which the city of Wilkes-Barre spent thousands of dollars to establish (sounds a little Sterling-esque, huh?!)  and many more thousands to maintain, has turned out to be a filth-infested, highly unsanitary “haven” for wild birds and animals (also fits the current description of the Hotel Sterling, am I right?!) . Because health conditions are deplorable, reaching the point where the majority of the animal populace has either died or been killed off, the zoo now must be abandoned.

Survey of the situation yesterday revealed the fact that there are but two bears, one silver fox and a horned owl, outside of a flock of monkeys, remaining in the penned areas. The Luzerne County Humane Society has interested itself in the situation, as a step in clearing up matters, paid $25 to take over everything but the monkeys. The city will maintain cages for these. . . .

In addition to filth brought by high river water, and given only western exposure and wooden houses when eastern exposure and concrete shelters are needed, it is reported thousands of rats have infested the pens at Kirby Park to aggravate a bad situation. These rats made life miserable for other animals by stealing food and, it is believed, spread disease among the inmates.

In addition to the drowning of a silver fox and two goats in the recent flood, three bears recently “murdered” each other and killed a cub, the two buffalo and a calf have passed away, while none of the ten deer survived. It is believed the zoo was improperly located from the start, situated in soggy ground, and another matter that enters into the picture is the fact that feeding and care of the animals in recent years was but a sideline of caretakers at the West Side park.”

“HELP YOURSELF MY DEAR DEER–Such was the invitation extended Kirby Park’s spotted fawn by 3-year-old Florence Victoria Krick, daughter of Attorney and Mrs. Charles P. Krick of West River Street. And as the photo plainly shows, a second invitation was not needed.”—Luzerne County Historical Society archives

The May 5, 1940 story concluded by describing how the Humane Society planned to release the two bears into the woods of Noxen Mountain.

Less than one month later, a column on Page A-9 of the May 12, 1940 Sunday Independent mourned the Kirby Park Zoo’s demise:

“To all intents and purposes the Kirby Park Zoo – the Wilkes-Barre City Zoo – has gone and the fact that it had to go, plus the manner of its passing, is not exactly a boost for the town.

The zoo was situated in a park, the upkeep of which along with that of the animals, was provided for by the philanthropy of Fred M. Kirby.

Naturally, the income from the bonds Mr. Kirby provided has shrunk, but hardly is it likely that it has shrunk as much as the park of which the city once was so proud.

Conceived as a place of beauty for the city, the main expanse of the park has been taken over to a great extent by the dike leaving, with the zoo gone, several baseball fields on the flat stretch next to the armory and, nearby, the tennis courts.

Worst of all, however, was the action of the Humane Society in “buying” the animals. This, they said, they felt was necessary in order to live up to the creed of their organization. They did not consider the animals were being treated in a humane manner at the zoo.

Life will go on in Wyoming Valley, of course, as it did before. Many other little niceties also could go and some people seem intent on removing them too, getting the general population down to the elementary necessities of eating, drinking, sleeping and working.

But the zoo was enjoyed by many – including the children. It added just a bit to their pleasure and helped make the park and the city of which we boast more complete. It also is to be noted that many other cities, unaided by the gift of a philanthropist, consider it worthwhile to spend their own money on such things. Furthermore, they do a good job of it.

So it is not exactly something to be proud of when it is proved that Wilkes-Barre lacks even the ability to keep a zoo – after the money is provided.”

Thanks again to Larry Newman for sharing the above information and to the Hoyt Library for making the Zoo Plans available to the public (There are several pages not pictured here).   The part that I STILL find puzzling is the fact that I cannot locate any pictures from the zoo when it was open.  2,000 to 3,000 people visited on Sundays during the summer and no one thought to take any pictures? I can only find the two posted above of the bears & the deer! If you have any relatives in their 70s, 80s 0r 90s,  ask them if you can take a peek at any old family pictures they have lying around!

 Even today, the Letterman Top 10 on January 20, 2012 listed the monkey as the #1 animal…..imagine how exotic it would have been to have monkeys in Kirby Park during the 1930s!  Where are the pictures?! ….. THAT to me is the real mystery of the Kirby Park Zoo!  :-) 

 @@@@@@

Return To

GUERRILLA HISTORY

Table of Content

 

Cheri Sundra © 2012
All Rights Reserved

KIRBY PARK ZOO RUINS ? !—Ooops! Maybe not……

If you are reading this, it is probably because you saw the title and thought one of two things:

“There was a zoo in Kirby Park?”  Yes, there was! But the Flood of 1936 led to the eventual demise of the Kirby Park Zoo.   You can read about the Kirby Park Zoo here .

Or

“I know where those zoo ruins are in Kirby Park”.  No, you don’t.  You know where ruins are, but they most likely are not zoo ruins, at least not the structures that you think are zoo ruins. 

But I do kind of hope that someone out there has the information needed to prove me wrong.  The idea of zoo ruins is far more romantic than the theory that I’m about to blog about in this post…..

Zoo graffiti from May 2010 which has vanished with the flood of September 2011

“It is sadder to find the past again and find it inadequate to the present than it is to have it elude you and remain forever a harmonious conception of memory.”— F. Scott Fitzgerald

I am not a historian and I am bringing this up to prove a point.  Despite the fact that I am NOT a historian, there is information out there that could lead someone to believe that I am legitimately a historian if they were to run across a Letter to the Editor that I wrote which ran on August 5, 2010, with the misleading title “Historian seeks info, stories about old Kirby Park zoo.”  Yes, I am a member of the Luzerne County Historical Society, but that does not make me a historian unless belonging to the Philadelphia Museum of Art also makes me an artist!

This is how historical misinformation can spread.  Unintentional misunderstandings, misquotes or a misprint in a publication can be used as a reference over and over again by other writers and researchers until it becomes part of the “facts”.  

We’ve all been told with certainty at some point that Betsy Ross made the first flag, it was even printed right there in our grade school text books!  Yet many historians (the real ones!) dispute that “fact” and Betsy’s house is not part of the U.S. National Park Service–which is a huge indication that the story is not true. 

During my short time as a faux-historian, I’ve come to the realization that historical research is hard, time-consuming and not exactly always….well….EXACT.  It’s more like trying to fit together a puzzle with missing pieces, filling in the blanks using a combination of critical thinking and speculation to try to create a complete picture. 

The very first article that I ever read about the zoo was pulled out of the Kirby Park file at the Luzerne County Historical Society.  This article ran on May 13, 2001, in the Times Leader, and was titled “Kirby Park: About 4 score years ago, a green place bloomed along the river.”  In the article, it states, when referring to the famous Olmsted Brothers landscape architectural firm who were commissioned to design Kirby Park, that “they did the entire original design for Kirby Park, including a zoo, a band shell and a wading pool.”  The statement was attributed to a quote by a man named Larry Neuman, president of the Wyoming Valley Historical Society (now the Luzerne County Historical Society). 

Unfortunately, Larry Neuman was never the president of that organization,  but Larry NEWMAN was!  Still, I did spend time searching for Larry Neuman.  I’ve also spent a decent amount of time searching for information about the Kirby Park Zoo plans and repeatedly came up with nothing.  Again, I’m not a historian, and I would hardly say that my search was completely thorough, but I tried every avenue that I could think of—the courthouse, city hall, different local historical organizations, the library—and couldn’t find any plans for the Kirby Park Zoo or any indications that the structures left standing were zoo buildings.

When I did finally contact Larry Newman, he shared a whole bunch of information that he had about the zoo, but said that he did not know if the zoo was part of the original plans for the park (he mentioned plans designed by someone else—I’ll get to those plans later).

Further in this article from May 2001, it states “John Mayday, president of the River Front Parks Association, said a walk down the Olmsted Trail—which follows the old drive through the natural area—will take you past the wading pool, as well as the foundations for the old gardener’s cottage, the band shell, a riverside observation deck and a couple of old zoo buildings.”

I had the opportunity to have a very entertaining conversation with Mr. Mayday earlier this year, and he told me all about the cottage, wading pool, band shell and observation deck, but was unsure about the remaining structures.  He also gave me a booklet produced by the Riverfront Parks Committee about the Kirby Park natural area that mentions nothing about zoo buildings either.

So I am unsure about how or where this idea about the few ruins left in Kirby Park being part of the zoo actually came from–and I cannot find any proof that a zoo designed by the Olmsted Brothers was part of the original park plans, but my guess would  be that the writer of  that article misunderstood or misheard that information.  Or maybe he pulled it from another source himself, but that particular article contains the earliest mention that I can find about “zoo plans/ruins” in a local newspaper.  And then every article that I have been able to find after that point, contains that same information, probably using that same article as a reference, just as I did when I wrote an article about the zoo myself. 

I eventually just gave up on finding any more information about these structures, until one day I decided to look through the resources at the Luzerne County Historical Society again to learn more about the children’s playground that was designed as part of the original plans for the park, but was lost when the levee was constructed that cut that area off from the rest of Kirby Park. 

As I looked for playground information, instead of zoo information, through the double binder titled Kirby Park Wilkes-Barre Olmsted Frederick Law Plans 1921 and the Kirby Day Book (June 4, 1924 ,“To Fred M Kirby from his son Allan P Kirby”) at the Luzerne County Historical Society, in addition to other information provided by Riverfront Parks booklets,  the mystery surrounding the remaining structures seemed to be solved, at least in my mind anyway. 

References to the Children’s Playground

“The Children’s Playground –Looking Toward Wilkes-Barre”—Picture from Kirby Day 1924, Luzerne County Historical Society Collection

“Nor have the kiddies been overlooked.  The little concrete block cottage almost on the west bank of the river, at a point below the Market Street Bridge, is to be used as a rest room for mothers and children.  The large section of the lawn surrounding the house will be utilized as a playground for the youngsters.  Between the rest house and the grove south of it there will be swings, sand courts, a bathing pool and many other interesting features for the amusement of the youngsters.” —-Kirby Day Book

“Cottage at Children’s Playground—Looking West”–Picture from Kirby Day 1924, Luzerne County Historical Society Collection

“The grounds around the bungalow near the river, formerly belonging to Thomas Podmore, were laid out as a playground for children.  The intention was to use the large front room of the house and the front porch and as much more of the house as may seem desirable in the future as a rest room for women and children.  If only the front room of the house is required for that purpose the balance of the house is available as an apartment for the caretaker, with entrance at the rear.  The cost of all improvements in and around the bungalow and children’s playground was $10,477.56.”–Kirby Day Book 

“The pool was part of the original Olmsted design and was used by children for wading.”— Riverfront Parks of Wilkes-Barre, Riparian Trail Guide, Kirby Park Natural Area, Yours to Discover & Enjoy   **Note:  In some articles the pool is called a “Reflecting Pool”

The Wading Pool & Sand Pits—Looking South from the Cottage—Kirby Day 1924, Luzerne County Historical Society Collection

“A children’s playground immediately south of the Market Street Bridge in such a location that if the new bridge is erected the arches will afford shelter and also access to the present playground and park north of the bridge.  This playground would be in its permanent location and should be equipped with apparatus which is readily removable during the winter when the area is not in use and at other times when it may be threatened by floods. The present bungalow on the knoll near the river could be used for a caretaker’s home until such a time as this area may need to be graded to increase the channel cross-section…..”  —Plan Book, Kirby Park, Page 569

Wading Pool Ruins October 2011

Cottage Ruins October 2011

“As you walk along the Olmsted Trail, you will see remnants of structures from the original park area, including an animal cage from the zoo, remnants of the Caretaker’s Cottage, and the Reflecting Pool.”– Riverfront Parks Olmsted Trail “Remnants of a Time Past” (project for the Leadership Wilkes-Barre Class of 2000) **NOTE: I wish I could figure out where they got this information at!  I also wonder how or if this influenced the 2001 Times Leader article referring to zoo ruins.

Unidentified Structure

Located Near Station 6

I have no basis for making this statement, other than lack of information, BUT if there is a zoo remnant still left in Kirby Park, this is most likely it.  I didn’t come across anything in the plans for the park that indicates what this structure may have been, and it is the one ruin that no one that I spoke with offered any insight about. 

Given the lack of pictures available of the zoo while it was open, all that I can offer on this subject is the following information in the hopes that someone can either help to prove or disprove that this structure could possibly be the remains of the bear habitat—the only zoo structure that I was actually able to locate a picture of so far. 

(And I do apologize because I have to go back to the Luzerne County Historical Society to look up the title of the booklet that contains the following pictures from the 1936 flood.  My notes are incomplete–all that I have is that editors & publishers of the book are Edward J. Donohoe and Hugh J. Brislin.)

Kirby Park Zoo Bears during the 1936 flood, Luzerne County Historical Society Collection–“Lest We Forget:  Wyoming Valley Flood of 1936″

This is a closer crop of the background behind the bears.  Keep in mind that the levee had not been built yet.

In the picture above, if you walk from the unidentified ruins to the top of the current levee system and snap a picture, which is of the Kingston Armory (built in the early 1920s), this is what you get if you crop that building.  Is it possible that it is the same view?  I’m not really sure myself….But apparently this is what the real historians would do to try to figure out this kind of stuff!  ;-)

Zoo Area During 1936 Flood—Luzerne County Historical Society Collection

References to the Band Shell

This is a picture of a slide with the caption: “The most recently completed of Mr. Fred M. Kirby’s magnificent gifts to Wyoming Valley. The bandstand is fifty-five feet wide by twenty-seven feet long and accommodates one hundred musicians. It was designed by a New York firm of architects which specializes in such structures. See Page 63 (Note: I don’t know of what) Photo by Ace Hoffman.” —-Luzerne County Historical Society Archives.

“The foundation has already been laid for a band stand to be located in the midst of the beautiful shade trees forming the grove near the bend of the river. “—Kirby Day Book

The next structure on the Olmsted Trail is what I believe to have been the band shell, which was part of the original Olmsted Brothers design.

In conversations with other people who I have run into while walking along the trail here, this is the remaining structure that seems to capture the imagination the most.  Several people have told me that they thought it was the remains of the bear habitat or the monkey house because of the little tunnel system/walk way that runs underneath the structure.

Underneath band shell October 2011

Other people thought it was the band shell with bathrooms below the stage with layer upon layer of mud deposited underneath from all of the flooding throughout the years.

Another view underneath the band shell remains October 2011

“A Bandstand with concrete foundation and with storeroom beneath was built in the wooded area near the river at a cost of $3,001.19”—Kirby Day Book

Rear View (levee side) band shell ruins

Yellowish paint on band shell remains

What appears to be concrete beams and a center support underneath the band shell. Picture use compliments of Ed Mountjoy.

References to the Pavilion

As you are walking along the path in the natural area of Kirby Park along the Olmsted Trail, you will find this structure on the left hand side.

Pavilion Ruins May 2010

While some people like to speculate that it was part of a structure once used to house monkeys, I now believe it was a Pavilion that was part of the original plans for the park.

Pavilion Ruins May 2010 facing the river

“The Pavilion and Grove Looking South”—Kirby Day Book 1924, Luzerne County Historical Society Collection

The Kirby Park Wilkes-Barre Olmsted Frederick Law Plans 1921 mentions placing a small pavilion in the picnic grove.

The Woodsy Owl Deck “The deck you’re standing on is what’s left of the gazebo from the original Olmstead Brothers’ park.”–Riverfront Parks of Wilkes-Barre, Riparian Trail Guide, Kirby Park Natural Area, Yours to Discover & Enjoy Page 29 

Zoo Structure or Toilet Building?  That’s the question……

“Located about half way down the river bank in the wooded section are small separate concrete toilet buildings for men and for women”—Kirby Day Book 

Located near the pavilion ruins, on the right hand side of the trail, you will find this structure (there is another similar structure a little further down the path, deeper into the wooded area).  This is the one that has been pictured in local newspaper articles the most often and is always identified as a “zoo structure”, usually in the form of a picture looking out of the window.

I believe that these structures may have actually been bathrooms.

Second structure October 2011–Several cracks have formed throughout the structure because a tree fell on it, most likely due to the flooding in September

In notes to Olmsted a toilet building for men and boys in circular grove of trees near children’s playground are mentioned.  Also included are notes to place a small pavilion in picnic grove, toilets to be either included in or near the building. —Kirby Park Plan Book pages 394 and 395

“Located about half way down the river bank, in the wooded section are small separate concrete toilet buildings for men and women.”–Kirby Park Plan Book Page 592

“A comfort station for men and one for women have been erected in the grove.”—Kirby Day Book

Water was supplied to that area of Kirby Park

Water pipe underneath band shell—Picture courtesy of Ed Mountjoy

“The balance of the supply to the park is supplied by a two-inch and smaller pipes extending from the manhole at the junction of the drive to the children’s playground and along the river to the toilet buildings near the bandstand. The total cost of the three toilet buildings, including sewage disposal, was $15, 985.74.—Kirby Day Book  **Note: unsure where the third toilet building may have been.  Maybe that could be the unidentified structure if it isn’t part of a zoo cage?

Another water pipe underneath band shell—Picture courtesy of Ed Mountjoy

In Conclusion 

The Kirby Park Zoo did not officially open until 1932, although there were zoo animals housed in Kirby Park prior to the official opening. The zoo was mentioned in the original plans for the park, but I never did find any actual plans for the zoo designed by the Olmsted Brothers.

REPORT OF VISIT BY H. J. Koehler, September 16, 1926, Notes:  “Zoological garden. 1 Bear, 2 owls, 2 pheasants, 1 coon.  Have it in the northwest corner.”  –Kirby Park Plan Book

This is the only other picture that I have been able to locate of the Kirby Park Zoo:

“HELP YOURSELF MY DEAR DEER–Such was the invitation extended Kirby Park’s spotted fawn by 3-year-old Florence Victoria Krick, daughter of Attorney and Mrs. Charles P. Krick of West River Street. And as the photo plainly shows, a second invitation was not needed.”—Luzerne County Historical Society archives

“The modest beginning of a zoo has been made.  Restrict it to its present area and in its present condition.  There can hardly be an objection to it.  Should an enlargement be considered, this ought to be carefully planned for in advance, and probably in some other location of the park.” – Kirby Park Plan Book, page 616, From Mr. Gilbert S. McClintock, October 6, 1926.

I find it hard to believe that I have been unable to locate any more pictures from the park, especially of the monkey house which would have been considered to be quite an exotic creature to have hanging around Luzerne County, especially during the 1930s!

There is one other piece of the puzzle out there that I am aware of that may help to shed some light on the mystery of the Kirby Park Zoo.  Unfortunately, I have been unable to obtain any access to it.

As a result of my Letter to the Editor, I received the following information in an email from Carl J. Handman of Eyerman,Csala & Handman, located on Public Square :

“The “ZoologicalBuilding” (project #228) was the last project I know of designed by W-B architect, Clark Wright Evans, AIA (1857-1940). My firm’s archives (Evans sold his firm to Robert Eyerman c.1935) contained 13 tracings, including a perspective rendering, dated September 1932. In 2002 I donated all of the Clark Wright Evans drawings in our archives (31 projects from 1898 to 1932) to the Hoyt Library in Kingston. They are stored there in acid free paper in flat files.

You can probably view them there by making an appointment with the new Library Director. She was not there when I made the donation, & if she is not familiar with them, let me know & I can fill her in on the details of my donation.”

I contacted the Hoyt Library via email and received this response:

On Wed, Aug 18, 2010 at 12:37 PM, Hoyt Library <hoytlib@ptd.net> wrote:

Cheri,

The material is in a restricted area of the library. Due to budget cuts we do not have anyone who could be with while you are researching your topic. We have reduced our hours and staff. When funding is resumed we will be happy to accommodate you.

Diane Rebar

Reference Librarian

I did send another email to the Hoyt Library on October 26th of this year requesting access to these materials again, but I have yet to receive any response.  Maybe one of the real historians out there can take up the cause and gain access to this information!  ;-)  

“Central Section Looking Toward Wilkes-Barre” (with Cottage)—Kirby Day 1924, Luzerne County Historical Society Collection

“River Bank Walk–Looking East”—Kirby Day 1924, Luzerne County Historical Society Collection

“River Bank Walk–Looking South”—Kirby Day 1924, Luzerne County Historical Society Collection

Kirby Park Olmsted Trail October 2011

To learn about the zoo animals, visit:

The Animals Of The “Lost” Kirby Park Zoo

~*~*~

Return To

GUERRILLA HISTORY Table of Contents

Cheri Sundra © 2011
All Rights Reserved

 

Kirby Park Zoo : Take A Walk With History

My article about the Kirby Park Zoo is now available at Independent NEPA Magazine at:

Take A Walk With History

Return To

GUERRILLA HISTORY Table of Contents

Cheri Sundra © 2010
All Rights Reserved

Abandoned Zoo–Nay Aug Park

All pictures by Cheri Sundra

In Scranton, Pennsylvania, this structure has been a symbol of community debate  about animal cruelty for decades, first as the failed Nay Aug Park Zoo and most recently as the Genesis Wildlife Center.

The original Zoo opened in 1920 and was a source of civic pride. In 1924 and 1935, schoolchildren raised money to purchase new elephants, one penny at a time.

Empty Elephant House

During its heyday, the Nay Aug Park Zoo was visited on average by 500 people per day during the mid-1950s.

People began questioning the conditions at the zoo in the early 1960s. In 1963, the Humane Society of Lackawanna County blasted the Zoological society for its approach to renovating the heating system at the zoo, in addition to the leaky roof and a drafty tiger and lion cage. That was a bad year for the zoo because an elk gored a baby elk to death, a monkey escaped and bit a zoo attendant and four monkeys died from exposure because of insufficient heat, in addition a to a female lion killing two cubs because a faulty door allowed her to enter their cage.

Abandoned Zoo Cage

The history of animal tragedies at Nay Aug Park Zoo just goes on from there, with stories about animal escapes and abuse by visitors, in addition to other animal mishaps resulting in injury or death.

In 1983, the Humane Society of the United States named the zoo as one of the nation’s 10 most substandard zoos noting “the exhibits at the Scranton Zoo are so outdated and sterile that there can be no understanding of the animals’ natural behaviors.” Even the zoo’s newest exhibits were deemed “archaic” by the standards of modern zoology at that time.

While the Nay Aug Park Zoo was home to more than 200 animals during the 1960s, by the end of 1989 the only animals that remained were two bears and an elephant because the zoo was in debt and struggling financially.

Abandoned Elephant House

When the last animal, Toni the elephant, was finally relocated to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., it was acknowledged that it had been unsuitable for an elephant to be kept without any peers and that the animal had developed arthritis in the lower joint of her left leg because she was forced to stand in a concrete pen all day. The elephant was eventually euthanized because of this condition.

Learn more about Toni the elephant here:

nationalzoo.si.edu/Publications/PressMat erials/PressRelea…

The zoo structure remained closed until the summer of 2003, reopening as a wildlife rehabilitation center. In 2009, the zoo closed again due to public outcry after Time Magazine ranked the Genesis Wildlife Center as the 4th most abusive zoo in the United States in 2008.

The city of Scranton recently announced plans to convert this structure for public use:
thetimes-tribune.com/news/plans-call-for -opening-former-n…

I’m sure that in the 1920’s the zoo was a fine example of a zoo during that time period. But it could never be anything but a 1920s-style zoo. While I was taking these pictures, a group a students on a field trip walked by. I heard a little boy, probably in about second grade, ask his teacher what I was doing. “Taking pictures of the elephant house”, she responded. “They made an elephant live in there?” he asked. When she answered “yes”, he shook his head and said, “That’s just wrong.” No one disagreed with him.

 

 

 

 

Have Yourself A Merry Little Abandoned Zoo Christmas

Have Yourself a Merry Little Abandoned Zoo Christmas {EXPLORE}
An Abandoned Zoo Christmas:  the remains of the Elephant House, Nay Aug Park Zoo, Scranton Pennsylvania
Have Yourself A Merry Little Abandoned Zoo Christmas

Return To

GUERRILLA HISTORY Table of Contents

Cheri Sundra © 2010
All Rights Reserved

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 96 other followers